Washington — Should foot-and-mouth disease reach this country, the government's emergency response plan lays out a "cascade of events" that would follow, including a halt to all movement of livestock in the state where the case is found. The entire state could later be quarantined.
A positive test for foot-and-mouth "will generate immediate, appropriate local and national measures to eliminate the crisis and minimize the consequences," says a summary of the plan released Friday by the Agriculture Department.
Foot-and-mouth is harmless to humans, but it is dreaded by livestock producers and veterinarians because the virus spreads so easily and quickly. The United States has not had a confirmed case since 1929, although about 100 tests a year are done on animals with possible symptoms of the disease.
"We have been effective up to this point and I think we'll continue to be effective," said Alfonso Torres, deputy administrator of veterinary services for the department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
The emergency plan, which has been in existence for years, is still subject to "fine-tuning" as a result of discussions with state and industry officials, Torres said.
Under the plan, a positive test would trigger a "cascade of events ... starting with a conference call" between state and federal officials.
The state veterinarian would then quarantine the affected farm and consider stopping the movement of animals within the state's borders. State officials would consider destroying the affected herd a virtual certainty in the case of foot-and-mouth and determine whether there are wildlife nearby that could spread the disease further.
Another series of actions follows when a case of foot-and-mouth is "confirmed positive," meaning that the virus has been isolated and identified after a positive test on an animal.
USDA would quarantine the state to limit the movement of trucks and other vehicles that could spread the virus to other states.
Burial, not burning, is listed as the best way to disposing of animals that have to be killed because of exposure to the disease. Burial is easier, quicker and "less polluting," the plan says.
USDA would secure vaccine to use in containing the disease, if necessary.
Vaccinating herds would be a highly controversial step, as shown in Britain, because it could shut down the country's meat exports.